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'Tales from the bushy-topped tree'
A Brief Survey of Military Sketching
version of this paper first appeared in the annual review of the
Imperial War Museum, London, Nov. 1995, ISBN 1-870432-19-4
This paper looks at an aspect of war art that has rarely been examined
: reconnaissance and panorama sketches made by soldiers specially
trained in freehand observational drawing. For over 200 years the
discipline of field sketching has been an important element in fieldcraft,
attracting professional artists (who were forced to learn a range
of new technical skills) while giving artistically talented soldiers
the opportunity to practice their hands in unusually demanding circumstances.
Many of the principles of field sketching were published in training
manuals and taught in the lecture hall and in the field. Even after
the introduction of aerial photography, freehand sketching was considered
a crucial part of field intelligence and, even more surprising,
line drawing is still used today as an element in observation and
target indication. This article draws upon panoramas, sketches and
instruction manuals held in the Departments of Art, Photography
and Printed Books; it also draws upon six weeks' work with the Royal
Artillery and Royal Navy during the making of a television documentary
which traced this untold story of war art.
' Not only how far away, but the way that
you say it Is very important. Perhaps you may never get The knack
of judging a distance, but at least you know How to
Military drawing was an element of the curriculum
at the first military academy set up at Woolwich in 1741. The Rules
and Orders required the Drawing Master to 'teach
the method of Sketching Ground, the taking of Views, the drawing
of Civil Architecture and the Practice of Perspective.'
report on a landscape: the central sector, The right of arc and
that, which we had last Tuesday, And at least you know that maps
are of time, not place, so far
as the army Happens to be concerned - the reason being, Is one
which need not delay us. Again, you know There are three kinds
of tree, three only, the fir and
the poplar, And those which have bushy tops to; and lastly That
things only seem to be things.'
Judging Distances, from Lessons
of the War by Henry Reed)
Possibly the most eminent artist associated with Woolwich was the
watercolourist Paul Sandby who served as Drawing Master from 1768
until 1796. Sandby was then at the height of his fame and his appointment
at Woolwich reflects the importance of drawing in the training of
the artillery and engineer cadets. Under his guidance the quality
of drawing was consistently high and a number of his pupils went
on to prove themselves as expert draughtsmen, often making crucially
important reconnaissance drawings and finely illustrated reports.(2)
During the Napoleonic Wars it was recognised that a skill in drawing
could be of immense benefit in unmapped and unknown terrain. With
the establishment of new Staff and junior military colleges in 1801
drawing became firmly established as an essential element in the
training of infantry and cavalry officers. At the height of the
war period the country was scoured for capable landscape draughtsmen
to employ as drawing tutors. John Constable was interviewed in 1802
for the post of Drawing Master at the Junior Department in Marlow,
but later rejected the offer arguing, that had he accepted 'it
would have been a death blow to all my prospects of perfection in
the Art I love'. (3)
On mainland Europe the trained officers were soon at work in the
battlefield, reconnoitring unfamiliar ground, making detailed sketches
of its topographical features and reporting back to superior officers.
The value of an accurate drawing, however hastily made, was far
superior to a verbal or written description and this highly trained
team of officer-draughtsmen played a significant part in Wellington's
Constable's relief at turning down the military appointment is an
important reminder of the disdain that many artists felt for topographic
art. Whether for artillery or infantry use, military drawing puts
a premium on producing an accurate report shorn of artistic and
aesthetic trappings. To many landscape artists this 'tame delineation'
of a view was regarded with scorn. The painter Thomas Gainsborough
wrote of the opprobrium cast upon artists who regarded themselves
as topographers, rather than interpreters of the landscape. Naturally,
the military mind require a factual, accurate drawing, however clumsy,
rather than an idealised landscape picture.
Drawing for military purposes can be separated into two distinct
fields that roughly correspond to the different arms of the military
: on the one hand are those drawings made during mobile reconnaissance
- usually by light cavalry or units of advanced infantry - and used
to record intelligence about enemy positions and key terrain; on
the other hand are drawings known as panoramas which have been made
from a static position, usually an elevated vantage point that commands
an uninterrupted view of the enemy front. These are normally drawn
by specially trained artillery or engineer officers and are vital
for indicating targets and determining range and arc of fire. The
different skills required for each type of drawing can be traced
in the many official and commercial manuals that were published
in the nineteenth century. During this period proficiency in drawing
was widely acknowledged as offering an advantage to boys competing
for places at the military academies. Yet the varying qualities
in the teaching of drawing across the 'public' and middle-class
schools constantly undermined the calibre of cadet applications
to the military colleges. Both the Clarendon Commission of 1864
and the Taunton Commission four years later remarked on the erratic
quality of art teaching in schools.(4)
The unimaginative style of most military manuals of the late nineteenth
century reflect the low status of drawing in the army's thinking.
Invariably, freehand sketching was relegated to an item of 'special
interest' and regarded as little more than an adjunct to map work.
Manual writers leaned heavily on the conventional language and symbols
of military cartography, transforming a lesson in landscape drawing
into little more than a matter of contours and geometric symbols.
Two manuals in 'Rapid Field Sketching and
Reconnaissance' of 1889 and 1903, for
example, laid heavy emphasis on map and compass work, with only
a cursory description of the merits of freehand drawing. Commercial
manuals such as Major R.F.Legge's Military
Sketching and Map Reading (1906) ignored
observational work completely, concentrating instead on mapwork,
measurement of slopes, magnetic bearings and using the service compass.(5)
One of the first manuals to actively encourage freehand drawing
is The Active Service Pocket Book
written by 2nd Lt.Bertrand Stewart and published in1907.(6)
In it Stewart dedicated eight pages to freehand sketching, offering
step-by-step advice on drawing in outline, using the pencil as a
measuring instrument and mastering the vexing problem of perspective.
The manual is clearly aimed at the complete novice. Stewart, for
instance, recommends the construction of an oblong drawing frame
attached to a stick with a pointed end. The frame is to be divided
at regular six inch intervals by stretched wire, thus forming a
drawing grid which will help simplify any landscape seen through
it. Drawing on gridded paper the soldier can make an exact outline
copy of the view through the frame, though any problem over siting
the frame, piercing hard ground and avoiding enemy detection are
skipped over by the author.(7)
The hurried re-issue of a number of drawing manuals at the outbreak
of war in 1914 was followed, over the next four years, with a flurry
of training manuals - at least nine commercial and War Office books
on topographical and panoramic sketching were available to soldiers
of all ranks. Significantly, tuition in freehand drawing and map-
reading had spread from being the preserve of the officer in the
Regular Army to a craft capable of being learned by all. The Great
War accelerated this development. Not only was the army able to
draw upon an educated and intelligent workforce but the static nature
of the fighting on the Western Front called for highly accurate
intelligence on enemy dispositions. Observational drawing became
an integral element in surveillance work.
Artistically talented soldiers of all rank soon found themselves
sought out to work in the Camouflage Corps or for the Field Survey.
Not all went willingly. Harry Bateman, having volunteered for service
with the Royal Field Artillery, ignored a sergeant's request at
their first parade for any artist present to make himself known.
Bateman 'remained silent as he wanted to
go and fight.' (8) Others
found that their skills were deemed inappropriate: the painter and
poet David Jones, serving with the 15th (London Welsh) Battalion,
Royal Welch Fusiliers, had five years art school training to his
credit when he was recommended to the 2nd Field Survey Company based
at Second Army Headquarters at Cassel. But Jones appears to have
lacked the requisite technical skills needed for map drawing and
was instead sent to one of the Company's four observation groups
as a Survey Post observer. Of no use in 'Maps' Jones did not last
long as an observer - 'Got the sack from
that job because of my inefficiency in getting the right degrees
of enemy gunflashes'. (9)
Others advertised their skills quite freely. Young artists Paul
Maze and Adrian Hill were soon exercising their artistic talents
in exposed forward positions. Maze worked for fifth Army intelligence,
Hill combined his drawing abilities with his work in a Scouting
and Sniping Section of the Honorable Artillery Company. After the
war, he recalled a typical patrol into No Man's Land:
I advanced in short rushes, mostly on my hands
and knees with my sketching kit dangling round my neck. As I slowly
approached, the wood gradually took a
Most of the military drawings made on the Western
Front fall within the two categories of Reconnaissance Drawings
and Panoramas. The former being intensive analyses of the micro-terrain
of No Man's Land as seen through a trench periscope or pieced together
from night patrols; the latter drawn from any elevation, however
slight, which would afford a vantage over the entrenched enemy.
It is also possible to divide these drawings and watercolours into
two further groups: those made by professional or art-school trained
soldiers and those made by soldiers specifically trained in military
more definite shape, and as I crept nearer I saw that what was
hidden from our own line, now revealed itself as a cunningly contrived
observation post in one of
the battered trees. (10)
From an art historical point of view the two types of military drawing
have quite different origins. The great era of panoramic art was
seventeenth century Holland. Masterly landscape painters such as
Hobbema and de Koninck produced views of vast, seemingly endless
plains in which the wide lateral extension and the raised vantage
point reward the viewer with an unchallenged view of the entire
landscape. Topographical painting, as we have seen, has a much less
celebrated provenance being considered inferior to the idealised
or poetic landscape. Topographical art was expected to supply information
accurately and graphically without embellishment or unnecessary
artistic effect. The true topographical artist was likened by one
historian to an explorer who makes a visual account of his discoveries
(11) - an apt description of such soldier-
artists as Paul Maze and Leon Underwood who had to crawl out into
No Man's Land to make many of their military drawings.
Like the Dutch painters, soldiers who drew panoramas for military
use seem to be fascinated by the vast space open before them. The
artillery panorama is designed to satisfy the gunner's thirst for
information about the distance. Unlike drawings of the ruined terrain
immediately in front of the trench lines, panoramas caught in a
single sweep the prospect of 'the Promised Land' - that distant,
unspoilt territory beyond the shambles of the battle zone. As the
poet Henry Reed observed, these were as much landscapes about time
as they were about space. In contrast, drawings made from the parapet
or periscope are concerned with the minutiae of the landscape. The
aim of the trench sketch was to analyse and itemise the key elements
of No Man's Land so that trench raids and patrols could be planned
within a highly controlled framework.
From a strictly operational point of view the artillery panorama
differed from a front-line or reconnaissance drawing in three respects.
The artillery drawing reported a single view from a particular Observation
Post; it need only show a few prominent reference points drawn in
a clear and unambiguous manner so as to indicate targets for observed
fire; and it was drawn to maintain a record of artillery data on
a particular battery front. The artillery panorama works on the
same assumption as military mapping - to survey and transcribe a
landscape will help neutralise the dangers of that terrain and eventually
assure mastery over it. The discipline of panoramic drawing would
reduce any landscape, however picturesque, into a series of immutable
co-ordinates and fixed datum points.
Drawings made from reconnaissance patrols or from the lip of a trench
are often less formalised than the artillery panorama. the descriptive
language is less codified, they may combine a number of viewpoints
and usually serve as visual elaboration for a longer written report
One of the most remarkable examples of a front-line military draughtsman
was the young painter Paul Maze. A French speaking, self-confessed
adventurer, Maze worked first as an interpreter to the Royal Scots
Greys in 1914, and later as a liaison officer for General Sir Hubert
Gough, Fifth Army commander. He would regularly send Maze on sketching
sorties to the front line where the young painter would fearlessly
record his impressions of the battlefield. One of his first missions,
in May 1915 was to sketch the 7th Division's objectives around Festubert,
a task which required him to draw from the front line where he 'had
to use a periscope and crane (his) neck over the sandbags quickly
and peep'. Maze rarely departed from this
hazardous technique. In March 1916, ignoring all regard for his
own safety, he drew in the line every day:
'My work was interesting. Bit by bit I dissected
the ground with our field glasses, and I made drawings from every
possible angle marking every obstacle which could
Maze supplemented his trench drawings with information
gleaned from aerial photographs, he also incorporated imaginary
views taken as though from the enemy lines.(14)
Unfortunately few of the drawings have survived. The five held by
the Department of Art must be considered typical of his style. A
large sketch of the Somme, dating from 1916, (15)
has obviously been drawn from the lip of a trench. The parapet is
broadly rendered in charcoal, a copse of trees in the middle distance
is established with slabs of yellow paint and its perimeter edge
is clearly defined with a single pencil line. The names of two villages
have been hastily scrawled in the sky. For all his abilities as
an artist, the drawing is, in fact, heavily dressed in the idiom
of map- making - the copse is given a clear perimeter line, the
conifers are rendered in the conventional language of cartography,
houses are drawn as uniform blocks rather than as individual buildings.
Maze adopts further map conventions in an even larger drawing of
the battlefield around Hamel on the Somme in which the British front
line is drawn in blue and the German line in red. Maze, however,
was not able to finish the drawing : inscribed in the painter's
hand at the bottom is the telling message
'could not go on through heavy shelling'.
(16) Maze was clearly excited by the dangers of drawing near
the fighting line and he relished his role as an explorer and recorder
of the battlefield. His work earned him both injuries and decorations,
and it gave him an unusual apprenticeship as a painter. Even at
the front he occasionally forgot his military duty and became 'engrossed
in form and colour'(17) but he was quite happy
to be remembered as an artist who worked 'in shorthand'.(18)
hinder our advance'.(12) What then were the
results of this extraordinary committment? William Rothenstein,
an official war artist working south of the Somme in
March 1918, recalled seeing at Fifth Army headquarters 'a long
photograph, made from drawings pieced together, showing a considerable
view of the German front',
made by Maze 'creeping, day after day, beyond our front lines
... an act of rare courage and devotion'.(13)
Whereas Maze learned to adapt his drawing style for military purposes,
other artists struggled to make the transition. William Roberts,
the young Vorticist painter who was serving with the Royal Artillery
in France, was told to accompany an officer to an observation post
(OP) and draw the terrain beyond.
From the OP I saw a completely featureless
landscape, save here and there a few broken sticks of trees. I
made a pencil drawing of this barren piece of ground, but
One artist who felt that it was not enough to
entrust military drawing to bemused avant garde artists was the
Artists Rifles' subaltern William Newton. A trainee architect, Newton
contended that it was possible to teach a novice how to draw a battle
landscape after just one lecture and two days drawing in the field.
He laid out his ideas in a remarkable manual - Military Landscape
Sketching and Target Indication - published commercially in 1916.
(20) In the introduction, Lieut.Colonel H.A.R.
May, commanding officer of the Artists Rifles, applauded Newton's
what use my superiors would be able to make of this sketch I could
The test of each solution is whether a stranger can with ease and
rapidity identify the exact place intended; and tested in this manner
the results of his teaching have been most successful and many officers
in the trenches have benefitted by the care and devotion he has
given to his work.(21) In his opening definition
Newton clarified the function of a military sketch. It 'is
a form of report, without the ambiguity of language. It is graphic
information. For information clearness is essential, and clearness
is attained by two avenues: a) thought, b) draughtsmanship'.
(22) In making this point, Newton noticeably distances
himself from previous manual writers who invariably opted for heavily
annotated sketches and for a pictorial language rooted in the conventions
of maps. The real problem, continues Newton, is how to simplify
the visual chaos of a landscape, especially a landscape damaged
It is therefore necessary to analyse, to bring
order out of chaos. For this purpose there are three main methods
of analysis - separation of planes, encircling or framing
Possibly the most interesting of these three
methods is the first - the separation of planes. Newton suggests
that the draughtsman should try to imagine a landscape as a series
of horizontal (but not straight) bands that stretch from one side
of the paper to the other. It might help to imagine the country
as something like the scenery of an outdoor exhibition with each
ridge, hill, wood cut out of sheets of wood and laid one behind
the other. Having done this, a point can successfully be marked
on the drawing, its approximate distance from the viewer clearly
indicated by the number and density of horizontal lines representing
fields, meadows, tree lines in between the draughtsman and the point.
in, division of a whole into parts.(23)
Newton's manual teems with such pragmatic advice. He emphasises
the draughtsman's duty in guiding the eye to salient points in the
landscape by using key devices in the terrain - an isolated chimney,
a single red roof amongst black roofs, three silhouetted bushes
on a crest line - as so many labels that indicate particular targets
or tactically vital features. He avoids the tendency of other instructors
to construct complex drawing frames, or string and protractor gizmos
(24). Instead, he argues for clarity of purpose
at all times, for always using a sharp pencil and throwing the india
rubber away - 'the aim should rather be to do a clear sketch from
the first, because in the field opportunities of subsequent polish
are limited'. He continues in fine style:
A line should be as sharp and precise as a
word of command. A wavering line which dies away carries no conviction
or information because it is the product of a
Such instruction may sound a little severe but
it was born from a belief in the superiority of careful observational
drawing as a method of study and analysis. Without the rigorous
discipline advocated by Newton, military drawing can easily descend
into a parody of itself - dull, repetitive diagrams in which trees
have been reduced to a formula, producing a landscape image that
resembles 'nursery wall paper'. This was due in part to the consequences
of drawing trees in outline which tends to make them resemble their
cartographic equivalent - either bushy topped deciduous or 'Christmas
tree' firs. It is also the consequence of drawing in outline alone
and so accentuating the top line of trees and buildings with a minimum
of shading and colour. The end results, however, had a curious aesthetic
appeal and many military drawings began to resemble the arts and
crafts style woodcut illustrations that were popular in the first
decades of the century. The Studio magazine was quick to note the
similarity. In February 1916 an illustrated article applauded the
army's work in broadening the education of the common soldier, noting
with pleasure that 'instruction has been
extended to the rank and file because the authorities recognise
the immense value on active service of men who can use a pencil
in making topographical sketches'.
(26) The writer marvelled at the short period of instruction,
proof that 'one can just as easily be taught to draw the formation
of objects in nature as to trace the design of the letters of the
alphabet' but is most impressed by the unsophisticated aesthetic
appeal of the drawings:
wavering mind. Every line should be put in to express something.
Start sharply and finish sharply. Press on the paper.(25)
These sketches are, of course, not intended
to be artistic in their handling, but at the same time there is
a certain charm in their simplicity, and the conventional
The accompanying line drawings show a verdant
landscape of rolling pastures and tidy villages - in truth, not
dissimilar from the images on offer in the magazine each month.
Similar pastoral scenery was uniformly used for target practice.
H.E.L. Mellersh noted with wry humour the popularity of this rural
method does not detract from their interest. (27)
'Two fingers right, four o'clock from the haystack,
at five hundred yards at the bushy-topped tree - fire!' I don't
think that a tree that was not bushy-topped existed
To the military mind, though, such aestheticism
was anathema. Though Major Pearson's manual of 1906 offered a wider
than normal range of tree types - pine, poplar, scots fir, the banana
- to wean his students from the tyranny of the 'bushy topped' formula
every drawing teacher warned the draughtsman to guard against 'artistic
effect'. 'Indeed', argued the author of the 1912 manual, 'it is
almost better that the artistic sense should be absent, and that
instead of idealising a landscape it should be looked at with a
cold matter-of-fact military eye'. (29) A soldier-sketcher
had to concentrate on the potential of the countryside for military
purposes and not be distracted by 'its beauties of colouring or
the artistic effects of light and shade.' (30)
in the picture, which at least saved any strain on the School
of Musketry's vocabulary or inventiveness.(28)
To certain military artists, though, the call of landscape art would
always overwhelm purely tactical considerations. Perhaps the least
exacting type of military sketch is the conventional landscape painting
which has been ruled off with vertical pencil lines to mark out
the degrees of artillery fire. Wilfred de Glehn chose this method.
A professional artist, de Glehn served with the Royal Garrison Artillery
on the Italian theatre of operations in 1917. From observation posts
on the hills above the Isonzo Valley he painted a number of striking
watercolour landscapes of the battlefield and the distant Austrian
lines. (31) Exquisitely painted and beautifully
luminous, they are, however, rather limited as images of tactical
information - important contour lines are lost in the refined brushwork,
keypoints in the enemy line are sacrificed to the principles of
aerial perspective, vaporous watercolour technique obscures hard
military fact. Only the vertical lines remind us that this is a
dangerous killing zone.
Few of the innovations in battlefield drawing advocated by Newton
seem to have survived the Great War. A sample panorama provided
with the 1921 manual of Map Reading shows a wide tract of country
either side of the Etaples-Verton railway in Northern France. Drawn
on 3 July 1918 at 0900 hours by a Lieut. J Smith Royal Artillery
from an observation post some 15 metres high, it is a classic panorama
- an endless vista of land described in a neutral outline. But as
a piece of graphic information it relies too much on annotations
and arrows, a return to literal description at the expense of pictorial
In artillery and infantry training manuals between the wars, freehand
sketching took a poor second place to the technical demands of map
work. Panoramic work was regarded as an adjunct to map drawing and
was afforded modest coverage in training texts.
During the 1930s gentlemen cadets at Woolwich were still taught
map-reading, map-making, field sketching and the drawing of military
panoramas by officers of the Royal Engineers. Charles MacFetridge
was one cadet who trained at Woolwich. He recalls how drawing was
one of his weakest subjects - 'I was appalled at the number of marks
allotted' (32) - and he remembered the particular
regime of drawing days.
We used to parade with bicycles on the Front
Parade, march off in sub-sections ie two abreast, and cycle about
two miles to the areas of Foots Bray and Sidcup.
MacFetridge recalls being taken further afield,
in 3 ton trucks towards Wrotham in Kent, to be taught how to draw
a military panorama. 'Having no artistic ability and having never
been taught free hand drawing,' he adds, 'I was very bad at this.'
(34) He dreaded the high number of marks allotted
to this exercise all of which counted towards the Passing Out.
These areas had not been built over, as they are to-day. I recall
that we carried strapped on our backs and to our sides a plane
table, tripod, alidade, Army map
case, army compass, large sheets of thick gridded paper on which
we worked, a set of lead pencils varying from very hard to very
soft, and rubbers. We wore
uniforms with well-cut breeches and brown gaiters above strong
thick brown boots known as 'sketchers'. These boots did not have
to be highly polished like our
other two pairs of boots and were suitable on soft, muddy ground.
We must have presented a curious sight and I can recall difficulties
when it rained. We spent
three or four days under instruction in this way.(33)
Seven years later, while commanding a battery of mountain artillery
on the North West Frontier, MacFetridge had cause to be particularly
thankful for a fellow gunner's drawing skills. During a skirmish
in December 1940 the 5/8 Punjab Regiment came under severe sniper
fire and suffered very heavy casualties. From his forward observation
post MacFetridge established telephone communications with his guns.
As the battle developed he was greatly relieved to be handed a freshly
drawn panorama bought to his command position by a mounted Indian
signaller. The panorama was drawn on the back of an Army signal
form, a copy of which was held at the guns; significantly the drawing
contained the gun data for at least three geographical features,
including one peak at the unusual Angle of Sight of 18 degrees.
As forward observation officer, 1000 yards in front of the guns,
Macfetridge had access to over 20 different panoramas all drawn
on cartridge paper. They had been made from both sides of the main
road through the hostile territory and showed at least 15 key features,
each clearly numbered with data for the guns. Mountain artillery
on this theatre of war relied heavily on drawn panoramas. The drawings
became treasured possessions, and were even considered as works
of art, handed down from battery to battery and embellished by successive
In Europe during the Second World War military drawing seems to
have survived, as one might have anticipated, in the Survey Regiments
attached to the Royal Artillery. The constitution of the Field Survey
had not changed radically from the Great War; a typical Survey Regiment
by the end of the war comprised three batteries: two Observation
Batteries each covering a divisional front and one Survey Battery.
Each Observation Battery contained two troops - one engaged in flash
spotting, the other in sound ranging, each troop had four Observation
Posts, which comprised a self- contained unit of 12 men.
John 'Ted' Baker and Ray Evans served in the 8th Survey Regiment
and both saw action in the North African and Italian campaigns.
In civilian life they worked respectively as a junior draughtsmen
and trainee architect and were thus ideal recruits for survey work.
They also proved to be adept at drawing military panoramas, though
according to Ted Baker this was an unusual skill, rare in either
the Survey Regiment or the Artillery. Neither soldier was taught
the skills specific to making a useful military panorama. Evans
received only minimal instruction in freehand drawing during his
six month initial training at Larkhill, achieving little more than
the briefest description of a landscape. In fact, perhaps the most
effective, certainly the most widely available, drawing course taken
by many soldiers was the famous correspondence course run by Percy
V Bradshawe's Press Art School, operating from Forest Hill in South
London. The course had also been popular in the Great War. 'I have
over 1000 pupils in the Army', Bradshawe claimed in The Studio in
May 1918, 'Drawing is a Military Utility, a happy hobby, or a lucrative
career according to your ability and viewpoint.' (36)
Twenty years on, Ray Evans was one soldier who had been assiduously
following the postal course; another was the watercolourist Colin
Newman who was serving as a cartographic draughtsman with the Royal
Engineers. Like Evans, he too went on to become a successful professional
artist after the war.
Both Ted Baker and Ray Evans worked in observation posts as flash
spotters as part of counter-battery intelligence. In practical terms,
they were the eye of the artillery, manning OPs in well concealed
positions occasionally ahead of the infantry but, on the Italian
front, usually high on the mountain sides which afforded excellent
views into valleys and across to slopes controlled by the Germans.
Ted Baker was first required to make an actual panorama some days
after coming ashore on the Salerno beach-head.
In order that our people at the rear, our counter-battery
officers as they were called, knew what the terrain looked like
somebody had to do a panorama. It had to be
Like his Great War counterparts Baker had to
crawl to his drawing position on all fours, peeping occasionally
above the grass, 'drawing by feel' rather than from prolonged observation.
Both draughtsmen recalled how unpopular they were with their own
infantrymen who feared enemy reprisal if the observer was himself
spotted. Baker tried where possible to avoid using white paper,
preferring grey or yellow paper which was less reflective under
strong light or at night time.
done by somebody who could draw. We had to creep up to the front
at night, and draw what you could see, any salient points, and
that went back to HQ and they
could get an idea of what you could see from your OP and all that
was done by hand, no cameras, no gadgets. It was all very rough
and ready. (37)
Striving to find his own drawing style as a fledgling artist Ray
Evans recalled his work with the 8th Survey Regiment.
Most of my particular work in action was on
Observation Posts, drawing panorama of the enemy front. Two identical
drawings had to be made with a grid imposed
The duplicate drawing was used at Regimental
Headquarters to co-ordinate counter- battery fire. Evans also used
his drawings as a means of calibrating the artillery, adjusting
the range and fall of fire by observing air bursts. Indeed so detailed
were his squared up drawings that he could direct fire by naming
a specific square on the drawing. With his constant practice, his
postal course and a genuine delight in sketching for its own sake
Evans' drawings in the summers of 1943 and 1944 were in danger,
perhaps, of becoming more artistic than was strictly necessary.
One memorable ink drawing made from Monte Rosa recorded both the
qualities of his observational work and his ability to record the
moment of war. The drawing came about after Evans was approached
by an army-naval liaison officer who asked him to use his observational
skills to direct the monitor that would fire the 16-inch guns of
a cruiser in Salerno Bay. With Vesuvius and Pompeii to the edge
of his vision Evans bought devastating fire down on a German command
post, watching with little emotion the destruction of an enemy battery
and the hasty departure of the German commander. In the best of
his work Evans combined the visual breadth of the panoramic tradition
with the obsession for detail inherited from topographic art. His
pencil and ink drawings made from 5000 feet up the exposed flanks
of Monte Rosa and Monte Morroni are in the great tradition of military
sketching - calm, detached, analytical studies made under precarious,
often hazardous conditions.
showing compass bearings and this became excellent practice in
Like Newton before him Evans was able to fuse the landscape artist's
eye with the strict code of military drawing. This synthesis is
best achieved in an image of the Gothic Line seen from Ciuitella
D'Arno which shows the magnificent vista across the Arno Valley
from Evans' Don Post. In his choice of pictorial language Evans
adopts the conventions of cartography: roads are highlighted in
red, crops in cross- hatching of yellow, trees coloured in green
throughout. The result is a terrain seen simultaneously in plan
and elevation; a landscape that teeters on the edge of becoming
a map. Few of these drawings should have survived. As the fighting
moved slowly north Evans and Baker hid their drawings in the foot
of their kit bags and forgot about them.
In the decades after the war the army chose to forget about freehand
drawing. A War Office manual of 1956, Map Reading, Air Photo Reading
and Field Sketching, carried a short end chapter on Panorama Sketching.
The manual reiterates the theme that artistic skill does not matter,
while asserting that practice is essential. The most noticeable
deviation from the innovative style of Newton's manual of 1915 is
the ready adoption of conventional representation of features, for
Roads - roads should be shown by a double continuous
line, diminishing in width as it recedes ... Cuttings and Embankments
These may be shown by the usual
Accompanying illustrations are clear and concise,
rendered in a neutral outline with an emphasis on tactical detail
and an eye for military significance. They lack, however, the true
painter's feel for terrain and the skill in rendering the essentials
map convention, ticks diminishing in thickness from top to bottom,
and with a firm line running along the top of the slope in the
case if cuttings Moorland or Heath
- These may also be shown by the usual map conventional sign,
groups of short upright ticks. (39)
Laser-guided weapon systems and satellite-borne reconnaissance would
suggest that there is no need for observational drawing in the late
twentieth century. One of the resonating images of the Gulf War
was the sight of so-called 'smart' bombs falling with mute precision
on grey cityscapes. Yet the art of freehand observational drawing
survives in certain branches of the army, notably the mobile light
units of the Royal Artillery. In concealed positions far ahead of
their guns, operating from a known grid, Forward Observation Officers,
normally captains, observe the ground to the front of their battery,
determine targets and order fire. An observation party can today
call upon a dazzling array of technological gadgetry to reconnoitre
a battlefield - powerful binoculars, night sights and thermal imaging
devices - but the skill of field sketching is still a valued part
of their work, requiring little more than a pencil, paper and a
keen eye. Captain Tim Henry, Forward Observation Officer with 266
(GVA) battery, 7 Royal Horse Artillery, a recently converted parachute
light gun battery, explains.
Drawing is very important to the artillery,
and to the observers particularly. We produce a panorama on a
flat piece of paper, so that if we have to hand the position
Captain Henry describes his attempts at freehand
drawing as little more than 'fag packet gunnery', but in a highly
mobile light gun outfit the ability to swiftly record the salient
points of a hostile landscape is a highly valued skill. Indeed,
the battery commander considers it such an important element in
the training of his observation parties that he recruited me to
teach the rudiments of freehand sketching. In the lecture room and
in the field I guided soldiers through the principles of looking,
measuring and analysing terrain; using a gridded drawing frame (built
to specifications prescribed in a 1907 drawing manual) the gunners
learn how to analyse and draw the landscape, just as generations
of survey soldiers and artillery officers have done.
onto another party they have to be able to instantly pick up and
identify features to the front. When we're drawing we look for
key reference points - a prominent
contour line, lone trees, buildings and so on.(40)
Some time later, lying face down in a camouflaged observation post
on the barren slopes of Salisbury Plain we filmed the same soldiers
directing the fire of the battery's 105 mm light guns onto a fictitious
enemy some 500 metres ahead. Carefully avoiding artistic effect,
one of the party used a felt-tipped pen to make a diagrammatic picture
of the terrain. But, unlike his predecessors' work, few of these
images will be committed to history. As the OP prepared to move
position the soldier took a damp cloth and, in one movement, wiped
the drawing clean off the sheet of acetate.
Rules and Orders 1792 cited in Lt..Col.H.D.Buchanan R.A., Records
of the Royal Military Academy, 1741 - 1892, Cattermole, Woolwich,
1892, p 33.
2 For a full account of Sandby's
influence see Martin Hardie, Watercolour Painting in Britain, Vol.
1, The Eighteenth Century, Batsford, London, 1966, p 216 - 222.
3 John Constable to John Dunthorne,
29 May 1802.
4 For a full account of the teaching
of art in the nineteenth century see Gordon Sutton, Artist or Artisan
?, Permagon Press, London, 1967.
5 Major F Legge, Military Sketching
and Map Reading, Gale and Polden, Aldershot, 1906.
6 Bertrand Stewart, Active Service
Pocket Book, William Clowes, London, 1907.
7 In summer 1994 a replica of this
drawing frame was built according to the specifications laid out
in the 1907 drawing manual. It was used during the making of the
HTV documentary Drawing Fire to help train artillery officers in
the rudiments of freehand sketching. Although useful as a drawing
device it proved a large, rather unwieldy piece of equipment, difficult
to camouflage and even more difficult to stick in the ground.
8 Harry Bateman quoted in Malcolm
Brown, Tommy Goes to War, JM Dent, 1978, p 185 - 187. Bateman's
drawings are held in the Department of Art nos. 6319 - 6338.
9 David Jones, Dai Greatcoat, (ed.Rene
Hague) Faber, London, 1980, p 241 - 243. An account of Jones' short
service with 'The Survey' is told in "David Jones and The Survey",
Peter Chasseaud, Stand To ! The Journal of the Western Front Association,
no.39, Winter 1993, p 18 - 22.
10 Adrian Hill interviewed in
The Graphic, 15 November 1930.
11 Francis D. Klingender,
Art and the Industrial Revolution, 1947, Paladin edition, St Albans,
1972, p 67.
12 Paul Maze, A Frenchman in Khaki,
Heinemann, London, 1934, p 130.
13 William Rothenstein, Men and
Memories: Recollections of William Rothenstein 1900 - 1922, Faber
and Faber, 1932, Vol.2, p 334.
14 Maze, op.cit., p 140.
15 IWM Department of Art no. 6070.
16 IWM Department of Art no. 6072.
17 Maze, op.cit., p 138.
18 Maze, op.cit., p 275.
19 William Roberts, Memories of
the War to End all Wars: 4.5 Howitzer Gunner R.F.A. 1916 - 1918,
Canada Press, London, 1974, p 27 - 28.
20 William G. Newton, Military
Landscape Sketching and Target Indication, Hugh Rees, London, 1916.
21 Newton, ibid., p 6.
22 Newton, ibid., p 8.
23 Newton, ibid., p 9.
24 See for example the string
and ruler contraptions suggested in the War Office Manual of Map
Reading and Sketching, 1912, p 51 and in Landscape Sketching for
Military Purposes by Capt. A.F.U. Green, Hugh Rees, London, 1908,
fig. 12, p.25.
25 Newton, op.cit., p 27.
26 R.F.C., "Topographical Sketching
in the Army ", The Studio, February 1916, p 44 - 45.
27 ibid., p 45.
Schoolboy into War, William Kimber, London, 1978, p 52.
29 War Office, Manual of Map Reading
and Sketching, HMSO, 1912/1914, p 75.
30 ibid., p 75.
31 IWM Department of Art nos.
270 - 277.
32 Letter to author, 25 June 1991.
35 For a fuller description of
this, MacFetridge's first day with 15 (Jhelum) Mountain Battery,
see Tales of the Mountain Gunners, by CHT MacFetridge and JP Warren,
William Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1973, p 121 - 126.
36 Advert in The Studio, May 1918.
37 John 'Ted'
Baker, interview for 'Drawing Fire', HTV June 1994.
38 Ray Evans, Sketching with Ray
Evans, William Collins, London, 1989, p 5.
39 War Office, Manual of Map Reading
and Air Photo Reading and Field Sketching, Part III Field Sketching,
HMSO, 1957, p 65 - 66.
40 Captain Tim Henry, interview
for 'Drawing Fire', HTV June 1994.
The author wishes to thank John Baker and
Ray Evans RI (formerly 8th Survey Regiment), Lt. Col. Charles H.T.
MacFetridge RA (Retd), WO ii BSM Douglas Gough RA (Retd), Major
J.D. Braisby RA (Retd), Major A.S.Hill RA (Retd), Lt.Col.P.N.Mason
RE (Retd), Col.G.S.Hatch CBE RA (Retd), Brigadier K.A.Timbers RA
(Retd) Historical Secretary The Royal Artillery Historical Trust.
The field research would not have been possible without the enthusiastic
support of Brigadier Bruce Jackman OBE MC, Major Mark Walton MC
7 RHA, Capt. Tim Henry 7 266 (GVA) Battery 7 RHA and Bombardier
Steve McNally 266 Battery.
Thanks are due also to Suzanne Bardgett and Janet Mihell, to David
Cohen, military art dealer, Ken Atherton curator at the Hydrographic
Office, Taunton, the late Bob Headley-Lewis, drawing master at Brittania
Royal Naval College and to the support team at HTV Bristol: Abigail
Davies, director, Stephen Matthews and Jeremy Payne, executive producers,
and Mike Hastie, camera.